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Remembering the gifts trees have been

As my wife and I prepare to downsize from our house to a nearby apartment later this month, I've been going through boxes and bins full of evidence that I've been a professional writer for well over half a century.

WDT-tree-IsraelScrapbooks, saved front pages, notebooks, loose documents. Paper, paper, paper.

Paper has been good to me. I've tried to be good to paper in return.

I've been reading Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She writes about the symbiotic relationship between people and plants, including trees. I completely understood when I read this:

"Responsibility to the tree makes everyone pause before beginning. Sometimes I have that same sense when I face a blank sheet of paper. For me, writing is an act of reciprocity with the world; it is what I can give back in return for everything that has been given to me. And now there's another layer of responsibility, writing on a thin sheet of tree and hoping the words are worth it. Such a thought could make a person set down her pen."

Today, fewer and fewer of my words end up on actual paper. Even my books get offered to readers in digital format, saving trees -- though, of course, they're also available in paper versions.

Still, in one way, I owe my career to the trees that have given their lives to become the paper on which my words get printed. And in a perfect world I would use those trees and then plant other trees to replace them. It turns out that throughout my entire life I've planted only a dozen or so trees, including one in Israel (pictured here). So, in terms of environmental stewardship, a value my religion teaches me, I've come up short by a lot.

Many of the words I've written will never be seen again, even though they may be saved in microfilm or in other ways. Such words may be considered the mayflies of journalism. But what's important is not their lifespan but, rather, what difference they made while being read.

The words in the seven books I've written or co-authored almost certainly will last longer than any of my words that appeared in newspapers or magazines. But, again, lifespan is not the issue.

In any case, the beautifully written Kimmerer book is a reminder that each of us, for different reasons, has a responsibility to the natural world -- to understand it (and our relationship to it) as best we can, to care for it and to give thanks for it. After all, it's a gift, and we should be giving it gifts in return.

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India, where I spent two years of my boyhood, is in the midst of a serious spike in Covid 19 cases. But India also is a country full of deeply religious people -- primarily Hindu, but also Muslim, Sikh, Jain and others, including a comparatively small number of Christians. As this RNS report notes, people of faith in India are stepping up to help out in the Covid crisis: "In the grip of a deadly second wave of COVID-19, religious charities and faith-based organizations are among the many civil society groups that have stepped up to mobilize relief efforts. Besides lending out their premises for hospitals or quarantine centers, the religious volunteers deliver food, medicine and other vital supplies to those recovering at home." In other words, we see an example of people of faith doing exactly what they're expected to do.

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Cover-lle-hi-resP.S.: Please email me at if you'd like me to speak to your book group, club or congregation about my new book, Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. Or do so if you'd just like to order an autographed copy directly from me. And thanks.


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